Review Samsung Z Fold 3: Let’s Talk Ambition!

MKBHD here And this… Actually I should. And this is a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3.

So the Z Fold 3 is basically a better built version of the Fold 2. And it’s 1800 bucks now. So it’s still an expensive specialty phone, but with serious ambition. And that’s what I wanna talk about in this review is the ambition of this phone, which I believe is the second best folding phone out right now. See, Samsung drop 2 Folding phones on us this month, the Fold 3 that you’re seeing here, but also the Flip 3, the vertical clamshell, and I fully believe the Flip 3 at this point is the best Folding phone option out there for most people.

The most reasonable to actually recommend today. But as great as it is, the Flip 3 has less ambition than the Fold. So like here, I already sort of explained this on the way from podcast. So sorry if you’ve already heard this before, but also if you haven’t been subscribed over there, you should do that. But what I’m saying is the Flip 3 has one goal, which is to give you as close to a normal smartphone as possible experience, and then just fold up and getting your pocket be smaller than normal, done.

The Fold wants to be as close to a normal smartphone as possible, but then also give you a huge sort of mini tablet sized screen and all the experiences that are great about that. That is a much bigger goal and ambition for this phone. And so I actually think that because the phone’s ambition is so high, this phone, the Fold 3 is actually worse at some normal phone things, on its way to doing some things that literally no other phone can do. So the most obvious place this shows up is when you try to use this as a normal phone without unFolding it.

Like this is what one of those boring normal phones usually it looks like.

This is what we’re used to for typing and scrolling and watching videos, et cetera. The cover screen on the Fold 3, it is better than ever. It’s way better than the first Fold. It is corner to corner now. It’s 120 Hertz now, plenty bright, and you can use it as a normal phone for quick stuff when you don’t really feel like opening the whole thing up, but it’s pretty narrow.

It’s a very tall aspect ratio that makes the top pretty difficult to reach.

Watching videos on it isn’t great. Again, because it’s so narrow. And even though I’ve used the phone for over a week, the keyboard on the cover screen is still a little cramped. It’s very easy to make a lot of typos trying to hit those tiny buttons.

So it’s just not the shape of a normal phone. And there’s also the Z axis, which doesn’t bother me as much, but you’ll notice it’s also way thicker than a normal phone.

Plus there’s a camera bump on the corner here, which makes it rock pretty hard without a case, but it’s better than the last version. The Fold 3 is 2 millimeters thinner and trims a little bit of weight. And I can actually see and feel that difference.

But overall it is objective really an awkward size and shape to use on a regular basis. It’s also worse than normal phones in car mounts because it’s so narrow and heavy. It usually just falls right out of most car mounts. And it’s also an absolute unit in your pocket. Like obviously there’s lots of other big phones, but this one is such a unique object, in shape and size that, yeah, it’s just an awkwardly big, clunky thing to have in your pocket.

Now, Samsung is doing the Folding hardware better than ever. That the hinge protrudes even less out the side, and it’s just a little more firm and solid, even in last year’s hinge, it feels good. And believe it or not the whole phone, including this hinge is IPX8 water resistant. Not because the hinge is watertight, but because they’ve actually coated the components inside the hinge and then sealed each half of the phone off. But as I’ve mentioned, IPX8 does not include dust resistance.

So it’s got Ingress protection against liquids and that’s all great. You can splash it. You can walk outside in the rain, but do not take this anywhere near a beach or a woodworking shop or anything like that because any solids or grit or dirt that gets in there, that’ll still kill a phone like this. Now I don’t know about you, but I really do like the overall design here of the Fold 3. They’re still doing the Satin on almost everything for the Folds.

So Satin Black aluminum side rails and Satin Black back with this new camera bump design. And this is the same set of cameras that were back here on the Fold 2 from last year, which is to say not quite highest end flagship caliber, but still a very good. Like in daylight with tons of light, these are great, very capable cameras, but just not quite on the same level as the flagships from Google and apple and even Samsung with their own S 21 line when it comes to sharpness, and especially edge sharpness and low-light performance and video, et cetera. So these are all 12 megapixels sensors for the primary ultra wide and telephoto. I’d rate these as like B plus cameras.

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So that’s really not bad at all. But you know, what is, you know it’s really been the biggest sacrifice on Fold 3, battery life. As you can imagine, going from a 60 to 120 Hertz cover display, and also trimming the battery slightly. When you got thinner, it went from 4,500 to 4400 milliamp hours and still powering a huge bright, 120 Hertz, 7.6 inch display.

You do lose a bit of battery in, it showed here. And like I knew it would be worse, but I forgot how quickly you can actually kill the Fold because you don’t really feel like you can conserve battery by using the cover screen anymore. That’s a 6.2 inch bright, 120 Hertz display now. So no matter how I use this phone, which that’s for real, I’m typically gonna have the power user tendencies.

I was at low battery or near dead before the end of the day. Here’s a normal day of use with three and a half hours of screen on time.

And it’s got me down to 15%. I could top out at four to four and a half hours, which isn’t great, but that’s where I was at. But look, all the sacrifices you’re making, all of the hinges and keeping it away from sand and not being able to Mount it in a car and dealing with the small outside keyboard.

All of those sacrifices are for this. For unfolding it to use that big, corner to corner uninterrupted, 7.6 inch inside display. And that is something that no other pocketable device can really offer right now. That’s what we’re really here for.

And they’ve improved this display even over last year with some really thoughtful things. So first change, the top protective layer over this folding glass is 30% harder, which, maybe that’s a little deceiving. Like it sounds pretty nice on paper, but fundamentally it’s still very soft. It still has to fold in half. So it absolutely will still take permanent damage from accidental fingernails and anything harder than a normal finger screen press.

This is not a normal screen still. And by the way, you can absolutely still see the crease as you’ve probably noticed by now just as easily as before. Now, I’m obviously used to it at this point. And I do think it has the advantage of being vertical through the middle. So your finger isn’t really running over it as much as it might on the Z flip where you touch it a lot while scrolling.

But yeah, it’s still a bleeding edge, very new display technology. But what all this does allow, now, is S Pen support. So it’s here. They finally done it. The biggest screen on any phone now supports the accessory that so many of us love from that Note series.

And now it will let us do all the great stuff on this, even bigger canvas with the higher refresh rate and all the great stuff about the Note.

It’s time to kill the Note, right. Is what I would say if there wasn’t a giant asterisk over this S Pen, which is that it is an optional accessory, a very option accessory. So Samsung made a special Fold edition of the S Pen, actually, it’s 50 bucks and it’s got a special retracting softer tip so that it won’t damage this new folding glass and cover material. And you do get, yeah, pretty much all the benefits.

Once you start using it, all the note, taking the higher fresh rate, the ultra responsiveness, the different pressure sensitivities, the air commands. You know, I’m not a huge artist, but the ability to sketch things and annotate things and sign things, it’s all here. But when you’re done, where do you put it? I mean, there’s no magnets or anything to attach it to the phone and you definitely don’t wanna just loose in your pocket.

So that’s another 80 bucks or so for a case to keep it attached to the phone for ready access.

And that case adds a flip cover to the front, whether you like it or not. And it’s just a lot of extra work just to do the S Pen dance on a screen that’s not even an inch bigger than the note 20 ultra. So, you know, I’m glad they added it. I think it’s great that this compatibility exists now. And I think a lot of people will actually spend that money and will use the S Pen on this Fold 3, but the best S Pen experience, if you’re dead set on an S Pen is definitely still what the galaxy note, where you just pop it inside the phone and it lives there.

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So I guess what I’m trying to say is this is great, but this shouldn’t be the reason for the death of the Note line. The Note line should stay around. Samsung if you’re watching this. But anyway, the second big change is, the selfie camera is a behind the display here. Can’t even see it, can you?

But it’s back there. So it is a four megapixel sensor, behind the glass and the display panel hidden by a pixelated array. And it’s decently hidden in most cases where you’re not really looking for it, better than a notch anyway, but the image quality as we’ve seen with this first generation of selfie cameras is not great. So it uses this D hazing algorithm that successfully brings a lot of the contrast and sharpness back. And even though it looks super processed, it’s definitely usable for just a normal selfie.

But in most instances, you’re gonna wanna close it up and use a whole punch selfie camera for a much better quality. Or if you really want a better quality shot, you can actually just use the main cameras. And that’s gonna be way better. Now, obviously there’s still gonna be times where you just conveniently gotta use the inside selfie camera. Maybe there’s a video call or they’re doing something on the big screen.

You just wanna take a quick selfie, then you’re gonna have to deal with the RGB haloing and you can kind of see the pixels the camera’s looking through, especially in bright environments and with any highlights. But, yeah, it’s fine. It’s a little gimmicky, but it does give you that nearly bezel-less edge to edge display. But then of course, the whole reason we want this huge display like this in the first place is all this real estate and all the software that they’ve built to take advantage of it. And it’s really good.

I love using this phone. Like I feel more productive with my phone that opens up to a tablet size. Like most of the time, if I get an email that I need to respond to with more than one sentence, I don’t use my phone anymore. I just go to a computer. But with this, I’m like might as well type stuff out.

So there’s all the flex modes in apps like the camera and YouTube. I watch a lot of like mealtime YouTube videos and this phone’s ability to just fold up, it makes it a little bit easier to just watch stuff as it’s sitting on the table next to you. No other phone can do that without some sort of case.

And the app panels over here on the right can also be pinned there after you enable it and labs. So this is also super useful, and there’s still badges for notifications and cycling in recently used apps and everything.

It’s kind of just like a full on desktop OS Doc, very cool. And there’s a couple of cool apps that show columns in landscape view like Gmail, but you still can’t have an email open while replying to it. That would have been really cool. I do like Spotify apps columns though, it’s neat. But you know what?

There’s also some downsides to the software too. Mainly, unoptimized apps. And one of the big ones is I think, Linus has pointed this out a bunch of times, the YouTube app on the Fold is straight up missing features.

Like you can’t post to community or post YouTube stories on this phone’s YouTube app. It’s kind of a nine.

And there’s also some apps that clearly still aren’t designed to work in a square aspect ratio like Instagram. And if you use them as they’re built, they’ll put your wallpaper blurred out behind it. So it kind of feels like a floating window, but now there’s a new labs feature that actually lets you adjust the aspect ratio of any app and sort of force it into this aspect ratio to fill the screen. And it works really well. I was impressed and now Instagram looks like it was built for the Fold.

But overall, I can’t lie, I’ve really just been enjoying using the Fold because it’s so different from a normal phone. And it kind of forces you to start developing this habit of every time you take the Fold out of your pocket, you have a moment to think, okay, do I wanna use this closed? Or am I about to open this up right now? Like lots of the early morning stuff for me, like checking notifications, catching up on Twitter, maybe, some emails, some quick replies, I’ll just stick to the outside screen. But as I move on with the day, I suddenly start to wanna consume more.

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Maybe I wanna watch a bigger video or I start to type more than one sentence. Then I have to decide to open it up and really get into it.

But that brings me back to my original focus here, which is the ambition of a phone like this. Like I love using the Fold 3, but I also loved using Fold 1 and 2, but I was fully willing to deal with the lots of shortcomings I’ve talked about in order to be on the bleeding edge and to have those couple of things that no other phone could have. And I think if you weren’t that guy willing to do that for Fold 1 and 2, Fold 3 is not gonna be the one to change your mind.

Like at the end of the day, think about it. If I’m someone who is willing to spend a ton of money on a phone, I’ve got $1,800 to spend, I probably want the best possible phone in as many areas as possible, right? So I want the best possible specs.

And this phone does that, Snapdragon triple eight, tons of Ram, but that’s the easy part, lots of phones do that. I’m also gonna want the best cameras, and the best battery life and the best usage experience and ergonomics.

And this phone straight up doesn’t have those things. I mean, even in Samsung’s own lineup, you can get a phone that does more of these things. So that’s kind of where we’re at with folding phones right now. The trade-off is you do still just get one thing that no other phone has. Maybe you really want that.

So Fold 3 gets the closest to that particularly high ambition. And I love that about it, but it’s already got me excited about the next one.

Either way, that’s been it. Thanks for watching. Catch you guys in the next one.


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